Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was borne out of a request by Alan Doggett, head of the Music Department at Colet court, St Paul's Junior School – where a young Julian Lloyd Webber was a pupil – for older brother Andrew to write a ‘pop cantata’ for the school choir to sing at an Easter end-of-term concert.
Together with friend, Tim Rice, Andrew decided on the story of Joseph as their subject, and set about creating the piece. It received its first public presentation on 1 March 1968 at the Old Assembly Hall, Colet Court, Hammersmith. It was just 15 minutes long!
A resounding success, a second performance was arranged on 12 May 1968 at Central Hall, Westminster, where it received favourable reviews, and was then expanded and performed again at St Paul’s Cathedral in November of that year. It was not until a few years later, after the pair’s success with Jesus Christ Superstar, that they returned and developed Joseph into the show it is today.
You can clearly see the origins of the show in Bill Kenwright’s new touring production, as the evening is still not overly long, and the second half contains perhaps the world’s longest curtain call, where all the musical numbers are reprised and re-energised – much to the delight of the audience! However what you have is a very straightforward story with high energy exuberance and plenty of spectacle. Never was the telling of a biblical story delivered with such great pizzazz!
Now over 40 years old, the show has undoubtedly received a much needed shot in the arm through BBC 1's Any Dream Will Do, filling the theatre with a new young audience, eager to see what all the fuss was about. Indeed current leading man - the impossibly young looking Keith Jack, who joined the show in May this year - was runner-up in the 2007 competition, which saw Lee Mead win the role for the London stage revival. Three years on Keith has finally got his hands on that coat, and does an excellent job as Joseph – although the part is somewhat two-dimensional – and his singing and stage presence is spot on.
He is supported by eleven brothers, who have much more opportunity for fun, with a variety of exhausting routines in various musical styles, including country, calypso, rock and roll, french café (!?).
Being very much an ensemble piece, singling out any one person is almost impossible. However, Trina Hall, as the Narrator, has a beautiful, clear singing voice, and you can hear every word perfectly; Lachlan Scheuber makes an impressive, hip-swinging, ‘Elvis-like’ Pharoah; and Henry Metcalfe as Jacob and Potipher, gives some theatrical gravitas to proceedings, as well as providing the inspired and witty choreography.
Sean Cavanagh’s design is bold and delightfully over the top in places – inflatable sheep being a high point, even if some of them were a little reluctant to pop up in places on review night! – and the set full of sparkle and clever eqyptian symbolisms.
The backing choir are supplied by Stagecoah Theatre Arts School Salisbury and Downton, directed by Linda Cameron, and the kids appear on stage throughout, providing extra depth to the vocals and working extremely hard.
Perhaps not as sophisticated or ambitious as some of Lloyd Webber’s later works, Joseph retains a youthful innocence and energy whilst managing to be fresh and above all entertaining. A real ‘feel good’ night out, which sends the audience out with a smile on their face and a catchy song in their hearts.
Jospeh plays at the Pavilion Bournemouth until 14 August, then the Theatre Royal, Plymouth from 16 August.